Montrose Berry Farm, Sutton Forest review: Pick of the punnet

Read our writer's views on this property below

Nick Galvin and his family enjoy a DIY weekend of hunting and gathering.

Somewhere on the pleasant drive from Sydney to the Southern Highlands we slip through a gap in the space-time continuum, inadvertently travelling back 50 years. How else can one explain the quaintly old-fashioned atmosphere that envelopes our every move during our stay at Montrose Berry Farm?

The minute we arrive, the kids seem magically to forget about computer games, TV, Justin Bieber and other paraphernalia of modern life. Instead they happily play traditional board games with us, read, swim in the dam and hoot around the farm on their bikes.

Meanwhile, Mrs G and I take walks around the property, play a guitar, chat or simply sit on the lawn under a magnificent willow tree with a cup of tea or a glass of local wine. We've turned into the Von Trapps. Any minute, I'm expecting Mrs G to burst into The Hills Are Alive or the kids to reprise So Long, Farewell at bedtime.

On arrival, we are given an appropriately old-fashioned and generous welcome from host and owner Fiona Robertson. In rapid order we learn the princesses are welcome to use the trampoline by the back door whenever they wish, the farm dog, Pip, will be a "friend for life" if we throw a stick for him and Robertson's daughter will be back from camp shortly and keen to show the new girls around. I rather crassly mention the money that we still owe for the accommodation, only to be dismissed with a brisk, "Oh, that's fine. There's plenty of time for that." We almost feel like house guests rather than the paying variety.

Our cottage is adjacent to the main farmhouse. Tucked behind a trellised grape vine, it has evidently been well renovated but still retains a cosy atmosphere, making us feel like the mice from Brambly Hedge, who are depicted in a print on the wall.

There are two double bedrooms, a bathroom, a laundry and a combined kitchen-dining-lounge room with a large open fireplace that would surely be welcome in winter.

On the coffee table are a saucer of lollies and a small decanter of whisky. In the fridge we find what is described on the website as a "generous" breakfast basket. In fact, there are enough sausages, eggs and other breakfast goods to feed a medium-sized army on the march. Generous doesn't even begin to describe it.

The kids tear off to explore and Mrs G and I take a stroll around the stunning gardens, which are to be our domain for the weekend, and then up the hill to inspect the berry fields.

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Montrose grows blueberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, red and blackcurrants, cherries and hazelnuts and runs a pick-your-own operation, as well as selling berry products including pies and preserves.

However, the only berries in season during our visit are blackberries.

Whenever I think of my younger days in South Yorkshire they always taste of blackberries (and Timothy Taylor's Landlord Bitter but that came later). Our garden was hedged by blackberries and barely a meal went by without a blackberry-and-apple pie or crumble appearing.

Though blackberries are much maligned in Australia as an invasive pest (the cultivar grown at Montrose is a non-invasive species), it is wonderful to spend an hour with the princesses picking the fat glossy berries, eating almost as many straight off the bush as we put in the punnet.

Tempted as I am to spend the weekend lolling around eating blackberries and doing precious little else, I'm determined to do some exercise. (I'm training for an ultra marathon. Don't ask.)

Nearby Bundanoon bills itself as the gateway to Morton National Park, so I head off on my own in search of running trails. It's late afternoon when I head into the park and the atmosphere is strangely still with the threat of a storm.

Perhaps because of the brooding weather or maybe because of the late hour, I appear to have the entire park to myself. The next hour or so is magical (and the storm doesn't eventuate). The fire-trails and tracks make for great running and the views from the lookouts are astonishing.

After that we take my thirst and the princesses off to the Sutton Forest Inn, a couple of kilometres from the farm, for a sundowner. The place is comfortable and friendly - the way country pubs should be - and the young barman obligingly digs out a set of bowls from the shed so we can entertain ourselves on the slightly decrepit bowling green out the back. Somewhat wistfully, we take our leave of Montrose on Sunday afternoon to begin our re-entry into the 21st century.

It's probably not before time - I'd begun to notice Mrs G eyeing up the cottage curtains.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Montrose Berry Farm

Address Ormond Street, Sutton Forest, NSW, 2577

The verdict An old-fashioned opportunity to bury — and berry — yourself in the country.

Price $430 for a two-night weekend, including breakfast basket.

Bookings Phone 4868 1544, see montroseberryfarm.com.au.

Getting there The farm is about 90 minutes' drive south of Sydney on the Hume Highway. Take the Sutton Forest turn-off (Golden Vale Road).

Perfect for Families or couples looking for a tranquil base from which to explore the Southern Highlands, with the option of staying put and enjoying the peace and quiet. And berries.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Explore the walking trails in the Morton National Park or hire a bike from Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe in Bundanoon (4883 6043). Visit some of the wineries. Spend a couple of hours fossicking through the wonderful Berkelouw Book Barn at Berrima.